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When Margaret flew home from Indonesia, Vidia carried on to Iran and Pakistan. On October 26, two days after Vidia arrived in Lahore, he went to a party at the US consul general's house. Moving fast in Pakistan's cultural capital, Vidia had fixed to meet bureaucrats, military men, lawyers, politicians and editors. The evening at the diplomat's house was a typical occasion of its type, where the educated elite of a failing state discuss how best to spring the country from its present mess. Vidia listened, saying little. Another guest was a tall, feisty, energetic, fearless, generous, dyslexic, emotional, fairly scandalous 42-year-old journalist, who wrote under the name 'Nadira'. When she arrived at the party, she was asked if she would like to meet the famous writer. In her account, she saw a sorrowful-looking man piling his plate high with salad in this land of vigorous meat eaters. 'I walked up to him and said, "Are you VS Naipaul?" And he said, "Yes." I looked at him, I wasn't smiling, I wasn't laughing, I just looked into his eyes and I said, "Can I kiss you?" And I kissed him on his cheek. I said, "A tribute to you. A tribute to you."'

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The re-creation of something like an old love - if on opposite sides of the world, divided by years of pain - put a stress on Vidia's relationship with Margaret, and filled him with guilt. One day when he telephoned Pat from a hotel in Jakarta, Margaret made a remark which stuck in his mind, and filled him with unexpressed, silent anger. 'Margaret said, "Ummm, almost like old lovers," or, "It is almost like an affair," and I thought that was rather crass of her.' In his head, Vidia began to reject the mistress who had through decades of harassment chosen to stand by him, and even now was traipsing around Indonesian villages wearing an unappetising red hat. Now that he might, if things went badly, have Margaret as his wife, he had a fateful, hateful, fatal sense that he did not want her any more. It was unjust, but as ever Vidia presented himself as a figure controlled by irreducible needs. 'I feel that in all of this Margaret was badly treated. I feel this very much. But you know there is nothing I can do… I stayed with Margaret until she became middle-aged, almost an old lady.'


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In October 1973 Vidia returned from a trip to Uruguay to a cottage he was renting on the Wiltshire estate of the reclusive English aesthete Stephen Tennant. He had the inspiration for a novel. 'I came back and made a bonfire at Wilsford Manor,' he said later, 'and as the leaves blazed I wrote down the structure of Guerrillas, the whole thing, and stuck to it.' It was then that he told Pat about his other life with Margaret - and, characteristically, recalled the disclosure of infidelity in terms of his own suffering: 'I was full of grief. I went back to the bungalow and I told Pat, as I might have told my own mother. I was lying down in my little bed in my own little room and she wondered what was wrong with me and I told her… I was so full of grief myself that in a way I expected her to respond to my grief, and she did.'


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In July of the following year, the degree results were published. They both got a Second, or what Vidia called 'just a bloody, damned, ***** Second'. It was a slight consolation to learn that JRR Tolkien had said his Anglo-Saxon paper was the best in the university. In the language of the time, Vidia was 'in too deep' to get out of the relationship; he loved Pat, he needed her, but he was not sure whether he wanted to be married. Ill equipped, emotionally and practically, to look after himself, he was unable to give any useful advice to Pat when she had the inevitable, long-awaited showdown with her father. The spark came when Vidia sent a telegram asking her to come to meet him in London for the weekend. She wrote with clarity and dignity to explain what had happened.

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There were, though, immediate and lasting problems: 'My father has told me that I must not let you write me letters here. He's not perfect but he isn't really prejudiced, Victorian or anything else.' The themes were set: Patricia was moved and stimulated by Vidia, her father objected to the possibility of a foreigner in their midst, and Pat's reaction was to blame herself: 'I just feel sick and more deeply convinced than ever of my general worthlessness.' They resolved to see each other during the summer. In August, Pat travelled south to Gloucestershire to stay with her favourite aunt. Free from parents, correspondence was easier, and they managed a snatched meeting in Gloucester. Later she wrote, 'I received your letter this morning. I can't describe my feelings as I read it. I stood at the bottom of the stairs clutching the milk bottle and feeling alternately as great as the whole world and as humble the smallest speck of dust on it.'